Blinken meets Iraqi PM in Baghdad, says attacks on US forces there ‘unacceptable’

US top diplomat makes surprise stop in Iraq to discuss Israel-Hamas war, humanitarian needs, issuing statement that Palestinians must not be ‘forcibly displaced outside of Gaza’

A handout picture released by Iraq's Prime Minister's Media Office on November 5, 2023 shows Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani, right, meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Baghdad. (Iraq's Prime Minister's Media Office/AFP)
A handout picture released by Iraq's Prime Minister's Media Office on November 5, 2023 shows Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani, right, meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Baghdad. (Iraq's Prime Minister's Media Office/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a surprise visit to Baghdad on Sunday following a trip to the West Bank earlier in the day to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

The visit came after a brief stop in Cyprus to discuss a possible maritime aid route to Gaza and was not announced in advance for security reasons.

In Baghdad, Blinken met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shiaa al-Sudani to discuss the Israel-Hamas war, sparked by the Palestinian terror group’s October 7 shock assault on southern Israel when thousands of terrorists killed 1,400, a majority of them civilians, and abducted some 240, including children and elderly people.

The two “discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza and our continued commitment to coordinating with Iraq and our other partners in the region to ensure sustained and safe access to food, water, medical care, and other assistance required to meet humanitarian needs,” the US State Department said.

The pair also agreed about the need “to ensure that Palestinians are not forcibly displaced outside of Gaza,” amid several Israeli proposals suggesting as much, the US readout said.

Israel responded to Hamas’s unprecedented terror attack with an offensive that it says is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets US embassy staff for a briefing before meeting Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad, on November 5, 2023. (JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP)

The Israeli military has been urging all Gazan civilians to move south for several weeks as its operation unfolds. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that close to 10,000 people have been killed since the start of the war, a figure that cannot be independently verified and does not differentiate between civilians and Hamas operatives.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, a series of rocket and drone attacks have targeted military bases hosting US forces in Iraq. Blinken urged Sudani to hold accountable pro-Iranian militias who have been carrying out these attacks.

“I made very clear that attacks or threats coming from militias that are aligned with Iran are totally unacceptable,” Blinken said on Sunday.

“We will take every necessary step to protect our people,” he added during a meeting with Sudani.

Washington has accused Iran of having a hand in the attacks which have also targeted American troops in Syria.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with the US Marine Corps embassy security guard detachment in Baghdad, Iraq, on November 5, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/AFP)

Most of the attacks have been claimed by a group known as “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” according to Telegram channels affiliated with Iraqi factions close to Tehran.

Figures released by the Pentagon on Friday showed that between October 17 and November 3, there were 17 attacks in Iraq and 12 in Syria.

Some 2,500 American troops are deployed in Iraq, tasked with advising their Iraqi counterparts in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Sudani condemned the attacks and said that investigations were under way to determine the perpetrators.

The Iraqi prime minister has repeatedly called for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and has described Israel’s military operation in the coastal territory as a “genocide” against the Palestinian people.

Iraq does not recognize Israel as a state and its government is close to Iran, which in turn backs the Hamas terror group.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 5, 2023 (JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP)

Blinken is engaged in a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, having visited Israel on Friday followed by Jordan on Saturday for talks with King Abdullah II and where he took part in ministerial meetings with five of his Arab counterparts.

On Sunday morning, he traveled to the West Bank to meet Abbas, followed by a stop in Cyprus where he met the president and foreign minister.

AFP contributed to this report.

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